In the upcoming weeks leading up to the release of the new Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode on October 13th, 2020, I will be dropping mini-reviews on each installment pre-dating Treehouse of Horror XXXI.
The Simpsons is still tradition in my household, my wife and I put it on before falling asleep every night, and have done that for the last seven years. My wife may be the biggest fan I have ever met, she is Elenor Abernathy (The Crazy Cat Lady) and Lisa as the Lizard Queen all wrapped up in one. The one thing that we have in common with the casual viewer is our love for the Treehouse of Horror episodes, these episodes are incredible homages to classic horror and pop culture. You can throw these on during your favorite Halloween line-up, get comfy by the fire with a hot-toddy and have yourself a devilish laugh.
These episodes break the continuity created in each seasons timeline as three self contained short stories are told in a wraparound fashion completely riffing on classic or modern horror, sci-fi, fantasy movies and television. It is widely known that these episodes were majorly inspired by EC Comics, also known as, Entertaining Comics, which ran from the 1940’s to the mid 1950’s specializing in horror, crime, satire, military, dark fantasy, and science fiction. EC Comics is most notably the outlet that brought you such classics as “Tales From the Crypt”, “The Vault of Horror” and “The Haunt of Fear”.
Treehouse of Horror
(Season 2, Episode 3)
Originally Aired: October 25, 1990.
This episode was originally released as “The Simpsons Halloween Special”, assuming this was before the name “Treehouse of Horror” caught on with a cult following and before Groening knew this would turn out to be one of the more prolific Halloween specials on television.
The homages start right of the bat with Marge standing on a stage in front of big red curtains and the spotlight on her, greeting the viewers with a sincere warning to the parents about the grim nature of the episodes content and that the kids should be put to bed immediately. This is clearly a callback to 1931’s Frankenstein and should automatically get the viewers hooked.
After this short little segment, we get a rolling shot through the Springfield cemetery that showcase some humorous gravestones and take the place of the iconic Couch Gag sequence. I’ll call this the “Semetery Segment”. In this episode we get:
Various dead Simpsons, such as:
- Cornelius vs. Simpson
Other tombstones are:
- The Grateful Dead
- Casper the Friendly Boy
- “Your Name Here” tombstone
- Paul McCartney
And finally, on to the episode…
In episode one of the Treehouse of Horror series we get the titular story to start us off. Its Halloween night, dark and windy, the perfect setting for the Simpsons children inside their backyard treehouse to tell scary stories to one another before going off to bed. Homer comes home from a night of trick r’ treating himself and decides to eavesdrop on the kids just in time to catch the first of three ghastly tales.
Story I – Bad Dream House (dir. Wes Archer):
In Amityville Horror-esque fashion, the Simpsons get a deal they can’t refuse on an old house, slightly skeptical about its low cost. As crazy things begin to happen in the house, Lisa finds a Native burial ground in the basement which leads Marge to take charge and fight back against the house.
Story II – Hungry Are The Damned (dir. Rich Moore):
The family is out in the backyard having a BBQ when Homer adds way too much fluid to the vessel and it causes a massive explosion that seems to attract the likes of a U.F.O. Insert the introduction of Kang and Kodos, the two squirmy, drooly, hilarious green aliens that would become staples of this long-lasting series. The two extraterrestrial life forms take the Simpsons aboard and inform them that they will be taking them to their home planet of Rigel IV “a world of infinite delights”. Lisa becomes very skeptical of this endeavor and hilarity ensues. In this story we get the voice of the great James Earle Jones as Serak the Preparer.
Story III – The Raven (dir. David Silverman):
Lisa begins to recite the infamous poem by Edgar Allen Poe in this short form adaptation where the roles are inhabited by members of the Simpsons household. Homer brings to life the lines of the main character “The Narrator”. Bart plays the role of the titular “Raven”. Marge plays the love interest, which is a painting of “Lenore” hanging on the wall. Anyone who is familiar with this poem should have lots of fun with this telling of it. The incredible voice narrating the poem itself in this segment is none other than the great James Earle Jones.
- EC Comics
- Frankenstein 1931 (dir. James Whale)
- The Amityville Horror 1979 (dir. Stuart Rosenberg)
- Poltergeist 1982 (dir. Tobe Hooper)
- Twilight Zone (S. 3, Ep. 24) – “To Serve Man”.
- The Raven 1845 (written by Edgar Allen Poe)
Treehouse of Horror II AKA “The Simpsons Halloween Special II”
(Season 3, Episode 7)
Originally Aired: October 31, 1991.
We again get Marge standing in front of the big red curtains on that familiar stage to start off this episode. The charming, tall blue-haired woman warns us of the terrors ahead, this time seeming a little less serious as the first time around. This was the beginning of another Treehouse of Horror trope that would begin to catch on, the scary name replacements for the cast and crew that would appear during the opening and closing credits of the episode.
- Bambi’s Mom
- Jim Morrison, with a cliche hippy having a bonfire beside it
- Cajun Cooking
- Walt Disney
- “Lose Weight Now Ask Me How”
Homer is home alone while the children are out trick r’ treating with Marge. After arriving back home, Homer, Lisa and Bart decide to dive teeth first into a massive pile of junk food, much to Marge’s chagrin after she warns them that eating too much candy before bed can cause bad nightmares.
Story I, Lisa’s Nightmare – The Monkey’s Paw (dir. Jim Reardon)
Homer purchases a monkey’s paw at a Moroccan market while on vacation. This paw is no ordinary monkey paw and Homer should have listened to the vendor at the market when he says “Sir, I must strongly advise you to not purchase this, behind every wish is grave misfortune”. We see the effects of ill-advised wishes surrounding a golden pacifier, fame and fortune, world peace, and a dry turkey sandwich.
After this segment, we get brought back to reality where Lisa wakes up scared from her nightmare, gets out of bed to go wake up Bart and ask him if she can spend the rest of the night with him. After some displeasure and bargaining with a candy necklace, Bart agrees and falls back asleep while staring at his Krusty the Clown Jack-in-the-box.
Story II, Bart’s Nightmare – It’s a Good Life (dir. Jim Reardon)
In Bart’s nightmare, Bart seems to have immense power in his dream, where he can manipulate reality and read minds. His entire family, fellow friends and the local community are absolutely terrified to speak against his wishes and are forced to happily greet his every command. By the end of this segment we are thrown a hilarious twist ending that truly showcases the relationship between Bart and Homer.
Story III, Homer’s Nightmare – Frankenstein (dir. Jim Reardon)
In a truly funny adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Mr. Burns is sick and tired of useless employees, such as Homer Simpson, so he takes Smithers down to his basement laboratory where he informs Smithers on his unsavory plan of creating his own “perfect employee”. After being fired by Monty Burns for sleeping on the job, Homer J. Simpson secures a new job as the local grave digger at the Springfield Cemetery. He once again falls asleep on the job, but this time in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- EC Comics
- Frankenstein 1931 (dir. James Whale)
- It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown 1966
- The Monkey’s Paw 1902 (Short Story By W.W. Jacobs)
- Twilight Zone: “A Small Talent for War” 1986 (Season 1, Episode 15)
- Twilight Zone: “It’s a Good Life” 1961 (Season 3, Episode 8)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 (dir. Philip Kaufman)
- The Thing With Two Heads 1972(dir. Lee Frost)
- The Wizard of Oz 1939 (dir. Victor Fleming)
Treehouse of Horror III AKA “The Simpsons Halloween Special III”
(Season 4, Episode 5)
Originally Aired: October 29, 1992.
In Alfred Hitchcock-like fashion, Homer starts off this episode in silhouette in front of the red curtains on that big stage. He then insults us as viewers and begins to cluck at us like a bunch of chickens. Incredible.
- Drexel’s Class
- “I’m With Stupid” tombstone with an arrow pointing to an “R. Buchminster Fuller” tombstone.
- American Workmanship
After the quick rolling shot through the cemetery, we finally get a glimpse for the first time in the Halloween series of the iconic couch gag, with the Simpsons family sitting on the couch in front of the television, completely skeletonized.
The Simpsons are hosting a special Halloween party for all the kids in the neighborhood. In all sorts of differing costumes, such as:
- Homer as Julius Caesar
- Marge as an Egyptian Goddess… possibly Cleopatra?
- We also have Bart as Alex DeLarge of A Clockwork Orange
- Lisa as the Statue of Liberty
- Millhouse as Radioactive Man
- Lewis as Frankenstein’s Monster
- Martin as Calliope “The Chief of All Muses”
- Nelson as a Pirate
- Janie as a Princess
- and Wendell as an Astronaut
To appropriately set the tone for the night, they decide to sit huddled together in their darkened living room as they tell each other scary tales. We get a look inside the minds of Lisa, Grandpa Abe and Bart Simpson.
Story I – Clown Without Pity (dir. Carlos Baeza)
Homer goes to the “one stop evil shop” by the name of “House of Evil” to buy a birthday gift for Bart after completely forgetting to buy him one beforehand. Homer picks up a Krusty the Clown pull-string, talking doll that turns out to be inhabited by an evil spirit.
The episode cuts back to the Halloween party when Grandpa decides to take over the scary story telling department, to tell an old-timey tale to the youngins.
Story II – King Homer (dir. Carlos Baeza)
Shot in black & white, this clear cut parody of King Kong is just what you expect, a re-telling of a classic story of race, society and love. Homer as the humanoid gorilla Kong, Mr. Burns as the Carl Denham character, Smithers as the Jack Driscoll character, and Marge playing the role of Kong’s love interest, Ann Darrow. Burns and Smithers lead a film crew to Ape Island to uncover the legend of King Homer.
Story III – Dial “Z” for Zombies (dir. Carlos Baeza)
In this various zombie flick knock-off, Bart is tasked with the school assignment of writing a book report. He goes to the school library to find a book and stumbles upon a book of black magic and spells. He devises a plan to raise the families deceased cat, Snowball I, from the Springfield Pet Cemetery, when reciting the wrong spell he reanimates the wrong cemetery and human zombies try to take over the town.
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1955-1962
- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour 1962-1965
- Frankenstein 1931 (dir. James Whale)
- A Clockwork Orange 1971 (dir. Stanley Kubrick)
- Twilight Zone: “Living Doll” 1963 (Season 5, Episode 6)
- Trilogy of Terror 1975 (dir. Dan Curtis)
- Childs Play 1988 (dir. Tom Holland)
- Cape Fear 1991 (dir. Martin Scorsese)
- King Kong 1933 (dir(s). Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack)
- Dial “M” For Murder 1954 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
- Night of the Living Dead 1968 (dir. George A. Romero)
- Michael Jackson’s: Thriller 1982 (music video dir. John Landis)
Treehouse of Horror IV AKA “The Simpsons Halloween Special IV”
(Season 5, Episode5)
Originally Aired: October 28, 1993.
The Frankenstein-esque pre-show warnings begin to disappear. Rumor has it that due to time constraints it became a hassle to prepare and showrunners decided to jump right into the stories.
- Elvis (Accept It)
- A Balanced Budget
- Subtle Political Satire
- TV Violence
The Simpson’s then emerge from the ground in their living room and sit down on the couch as reanimated zombies.
Bart introduces each tale of terror this time around by hand picking three paintings to tell us their origin story, Marge interrupts him to once again warn the audience of what is to come and that a better choice may be to listen to the old Orson Welles radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” instead. As Bart walks through the gallery, he moves past famous paintings such as: “The Scream”, “The Son of Man”, “The Death of Marat”, “The Persistence of Man”, and “Ascending & Descending”, all featuring members of the Simpsons family. Let the Night Gallery begin.
Painting 1 – The Devil and Homer Simpson (dir. David Silverman)
Homer exclaims that he would sell his soul to The Devil for a donut after waking from his work day nap to find no donuts left for him to enjoy. Devil Ned (Ned Flanders) hears Homer’s exclaim and shows up for duty, convinces Homer to sell his soul for a scrumptious donut, but Homer finds a loophole in this contract and ends up sending Ned back to hell without a soul to claim. The loophole is eventually broken and Homer must spend a day in Hell being tortured before he is put on trial in front of the Devil and his fiery jury to win his soul back. “The Devil and Daniel Webster” was originally a short story written by Stephen Vincent Benet, published in 1936, was then adapted for film in 1941 by director William Dieterle. Another highly inspiration and intriguing documentaries was released in 2006 by the name of “The Devil and Daniel Johnston”, which was directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, and supported big time by Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons. For any music lovers or artists out there, this is a fantastic watch.
Painting 2 – Terror at 5 1/2 Feet (dir. David Silverman)
We could also call this tiny terror of a story “The Ghooooouuul Bus” but for horror reference sake we will stick with the original title. Another big Twilight Zone parody (I think we are seeing a bit of a trend now, every edition so far has one Twilight Zone parody) for one of the more renowned episodes. Blue gremlins terrorize the Springfield Elementary school bus one morning while Bart, Lisa, Otto and the rest of the familiar passengers are taken to class. Bart tries to warn everyone on the bus but nobody believes him, so he takes matters into his own hands which obviously doesn’t work out the way he plans and is sent away to an insane asylum for the rest of his life. After Ned Flanders attempts to adopt one of these creatures the trepidation is expected to stop, but does it?
“They’re dogs and they’re playing poker!”Homer J. Simpson
Painting 3 – Bart Simpson’s: Dracula (dir. David Silverman)
This last segment of what I believe to be one of the best Treehouse of Horror episodes, plays with the conventions of horror within the vampire tropes. The local news reports that there have been several Vampire attacks going on in Springfield, Lisa alerts the family and informs them of the tale of “Nosferatu the Vampyre”. Mr. Burns invites the family over for dinner at his castle in “Pennsylvania!” and suggests that they wash their necks before they reach the destination. Mr. Burns greets them in Gary Oldman-esque attire upon arrival, but everyone in the family except Lisa is none-the-wiser.
At the end of the episode, the cast of this segment wish us a happy Halloween to then break out into a Charlie Brown Christmas style song and dance.
During the closing scary name credit sequence of this episode, the horror influence on The Simpsons theme song was derived by sounds and chords played during The Munsters and The Addams Family theme songs.
- Rod Serling’s: Night Gallery 1969 (Movie- dir(s). Steven Spielberg, Barry Shear, Boris Sagal) (TV Series 1969-1973)
- Twilight Zone: “Terror at 20,000 Feet” 1963 (Season 5, Episode 3)
- Twilight Zone: The Movie 1983 (dir(s). John Landis, Steven Spielberg, George Miller, Joe Dante)
- Bram Stokers: Dracula 1992 (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
- Nosferatu 1922 (dir. F.W Murnau)
- Nosferatu the Vampyre 1979 (dir. Werner Herzog)
- The Lost Boys 1987 (dir. Joel Schumacher)
- Salem’s Lot 1975 (Written By: Stephen King) 1979 (dir. Tobe Hooper)
- The Munsters 1964-1966
- The Addams Family 1964-1966 (Movie 1991 dir. Barry Sonnenfeld)
As stated in the opening paragraph of this article, I will make it my duty to bring you this type of coverage of all the Treehouse of Horror and other horror related episodes leading up to the release of Treehouse of Horror XXXI. What this show has managed to do through three decades for us horror fans is incredible, and should be held up on one of the highest pedestals.
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Horror Fanatic. Macabre Enthusiast. Maker of Good Food, Lover of Genre Conversation and simply, a Writer.